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COVID-19 fatality inversely proportional to hospital beds
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2020.03.30 16:53
  • Updated 2020.03.30 16:53
  • comments 0

Europe and the U.S. are witnessing a spike in new cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – and its victims.

As of 9 a.m. Sunday, the U.S. topped the number of confirmed cases, followed by Italy, China, Spain, Germany, France, Iran, the U.K., Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Korea. Korea used to rank second, next to China, until March 7.

However, a surging number of new cases in Europe and the U.S. pushed down the ranking of Korea to 11th. The fatality rate, however, is not proportional to the number of confirmed patients in each country. While China, Italy, Spain, Iran, France, the U.K., and the Netherlands report 4-10 percent fatality rates, Korea, the U.S., Germany, and Switzerland contained the rate at around 0.8 to 1.8 percent.

How did Korea keep the fatality rate below 2 percent even when it had the second largest number of confirmed cases on March 7?

Experts cited several reasons. Korea moved quickly to trace infected people and blocked transmission routes to second and third infections. The nation executed mass testing extensively to the world’s surprise. Its healthcare professionals joined efforts in both public and private sectors to fight COVID-19.

In particular, sufficient hospital beds, which had been criticized as oversupply, greatly helped cushion the shock of massive hospitalizations in a pandemic situation, experts noted.

Then, how is the COVID-19 fatality rate related to hospital beds per population?

According to the OECD’s 2019 health data, Korea had 12.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which was 2.6 times higher than the OECD’s average at 4.7.

While Korea’s number of hospital beds per 1,000 people rose by two from 10.3 in 2012 to 12.3 in 2017, the average of OECD slid by 0.2 during the same period.

Japan has the highest number of hospital beds, holding 13.1 beds per 1,000 people. No other country has over 10 beds per 1,000 people, except for Japan and Korea.

Italy, where 10.8 percent of confirmed patients have died as of Sunday, had 3.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which was fewer than the OECD average. Compared to 3.4 beds in 2012, the number even declined.

Spain, which also showed a high 8.3 percent fatality rate among European countries, had three beds per 1,000 people, which was below the OECD average. The U.K. had a 6 percent fatality rate in COVID-19 cases, and the country had 2.5 beds (as of 2017), the lowest among OECD members. The Netherlands, with a 6.5 percent fatality rate in COVID-19 cases, had 3.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people.

In contrast, Germany, which came in the top 10 in terms of the number of confirmed cases had only a 0.8 percent fatality rate. Germany had eight hospital beds per 1,000 people, well above the OECD average.

However, France is quite exceptional. The country had six hospital beds per 1,000 people, which was higher than the OECD average but suffered a 6.2 percent fatality rate among COVID-19 cases.

The U.S. and Switzerland, which showed a similar fatality rate with Korea (1.6 percent) at 1.7 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively, had 2.8 and 4.5 hospital beds as of 2016.

The U.S. was the only OECD member that had hospital beds below the OECD average among countries within the top 10 in terms of COVID-19 confirmed cases, and that had a fatality rate below 2 percent.

The fewer hospital beds for acute care, the higher the fatality rate, data showed. Korea had 7.1 acute care beds per 1,000 population, much higher than the OECD average of 3.6.

On the other hand, France had 3.1 acute care beds, Italy, 2.6, the U.K., 2.1, and the Netherlands, 2.9, all recording below the OECD average of 3.6.

Based on the OECD statistics and each country’s COVID-19 situation, countries with a small number of hospital beds and acute care beds tend to have high COVID-19 fatality rates, and those with a large number of beds had low fatality rates.

In the past, experts used to criticize the nation's large number of hospital beds and acute care beds. However, the excessive supply of hospital beds played a critical role in reducing deaths in the country, they said.

Also, the number of annual outpatient medical treatments per capita, another measure of access to healthcare, was associated with the fatality rate of COVID-19.

A Korean person gets outpatient medical treatments 16.6 times per year, which is the highest among OECD, compared to the OECD average of 7.1. Germany, which is reporting the lowest COVID-19 fatality rate, has 9.9 times medical treatments, also above the OECD average.

In contrast, Italy, Spain, France, and the U.K. with high COVID-19 fatality rates either had no relevant records or showed frequency similar to or lower than the OECD – Spain had 7.3 times outpatient medical treatments per year, and France, 6.1 times.


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